Tennis seemed secondary at the Australian Open on Monday, as the sports world faced the shocking news that Kobe Bryant had perished in a helicopter crash. The 41-year-old won five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers and was one of the most well-known athletes anywhere, including a world away from where he played in the United States.
In Melbourne, Bryant was the topic of conversation from a variety of current and former players, coaches and commentators.
MELBOURNE—Here at the Australian Open this Tuesday morning, a lightning bolt hit Melbourne: the sudden and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna “Gigi” and seven others. From the player’s lounge to the dining areas to the media room and beyond, everyone at Melbourne Park has been deeply touched and saddened.
Darren Cahill, commentator and coach of Simona Halep
"I felt sick this morning when I woke up and saw the news. We at ESPN had Novak on the desk a couple of days ago. We did a 16-minute interview with Novak. We've never done a 16-minute interview with an athlete while tennis is going on. It was so good.
"The last three or four minutes he spoke about the relationship that he has, as Kobe being one of his mentors. And during the interview I actually felt goose bumps from the words he was talking about. And then for this to happen two days later, it's shattering.
"I've never met Kobe. Certainly I looked up to what he used to do as an athlete, as a professional, an incredible basketball player. My heart goes out to all of his family and friends. I'm sure, like everybody, we're just shattered to hear that news.
"And especially his daughter passing away, as well. I couldn't think of anything worse. My two kids are here. They are 18 and 15. I could not get my head around that.
"I felt sick this morning."
Gael Monfils, 10th-seeded player in Melbourne
“It was really tough this morning. You know, is the first thing, you know, when I woke up, bunch of messages. Definitely when I found out that, I was really, really sad, because it was someone that for sure I was looking up growing up and someone very special.
"To be honest with you, really devastated by that, because it means quite a lot for me, and I know also for Elina, and definitely all my thoughts and prayers for his family.”
Mats Wilander, former No. 1
“It’s not about Kobe Bryant. It’s about everyone in the helicopter. He was on a mission to do things to change the world. It takes guts to do this.”
Simona Halep, Wimbledon champion
“When I saw the TV in the morning, was actually the first thing that I saw. I feel really sad about this. It's a huge loss for the world, for the sport. I mean, for the family, I think it's even—I cannot have, like, described this to lose one person. It's terrible to lose more than one. It's tragedy. So all my thoughts to the family, and I don't know how they can feel a little bit better, but it's a tough moment for the world. I feel so sad about it.”
RIP Kobe Bryant and all those who lost their lives today ????— Simona Halep (@Simona_Halep) January 27, 2020
Your loss puts everything in perspective.
Thank you for inspiring so many of us to follow our dreams
“Devastating. I think I was in shock for about 45 seconds when I turned the TV on this morning. I don’t think you realize that when someone is 41 years of age and has the rest of his life ahead of them and done so much in their life.
"We saw Kobe a lot at the US Open. He was on the set, commented half of Coco Gauff’s match with our team. . . . He was omnipresent at the US Open. He was omnipresent here two days ago with Novak talking about the influence he’s had on him. . . .To wake up this morning to that news was just terrible. It’s a terrible day for sports.”
“I woke up this morning and saw some pictures and didn’t realize what was happening. Took me five minutes and then I saw these hashtags. I couldn’t get my head around it. He inspired millions of people—athletes, non-athletes—with what he’s done for the game and also, off the court. You lose someone like that, there are no words. . . . It puts things in perspective when things like this happen, getting upset about playing a sport or losing a match and it’s like, ‘Who cares?’”
“I’m devastated. For everybody, he’s still one of the legends. You never thought that would happen. I’m thinking about his wife and kids. It’s insane, really, what happened. Not easy.”
“I was shocked—very, very sad. No words. It’s tough to find the words—too emotional. As a champion and as a person, I liked the way he behaved. It’s very sad.”
Chanda Rubin, former world No. 6
“It was just shocking. It made me want to go home. My husband played basketball in high school and is a big Kobe fan. It makes you reassess. I can’t imagine what his wife and daughters are going through. It’s unimaginable.”
Kathy Rinaldi, U.S. Fed Cup captain
“I’m devastated. It’s terrible. He was so young. I only just met him last year, at the US Open. You could see his personality light up the room. My heart goes to his family.”
Mark Petchey, former player
“It’s just incredibly sad. You think about this as a parent. From the outside looking, he seemed to touch people in a way people rarely do. It’s incredibly sad for his family and others.”
Michael Joyce, former coach of Maria Sharapova
“I grew up a Lakers fan. It’s just horrible. When Maria [Sharapova, who Joyce coached] was dating [basketball player] Sasha, I met Kobe. He was a hero of mine. I really looked up to him and his work ethic.”
Mansour Bahrami, legends player
“I was very sorry when I heard the news. He was a great sportsman. My kids wanted to buy his shoes. They were crazy about him. He was a true legend and it’s very sad news.”
Paul McNamee, former Australian player and sports administrator
"This just show the fleeting nature of life and the extraordinary life we get to live. It shows how this lovely life can be taken away instantly.”
More reaction from Melbourne to come.